Half-Life 2 has generated more than its fair share of mods since release, but one which has really grabbed the attention is Minerva, Adam Foster's anti-modification mod, which tells his own apocryphal story set in the Half-Life 2 universe. High time then to find out more...
Could you give us a quick rundown of what Minerva is?
Minerva is an anti-modification for single-player Half-Life 2. I'm ignoring the standard, cargo-cult routine of weapons renders, concept art done in crayon, Web forums with flame wars and media releases. Instead, I'm taking an almost dogma-like approach to game design. The aim isn't to replace as much game content as possible; instead, it's to tell my own, apocryphal story set in the Half-Life 2 universe, and to actually release something for the public to play.
How do you go about scripting Minerva?
Cursed with an over-active imagination from a very early age, I've been writing short stories for years. Nothing's been published or is available online, but it's meant I'm not exactly new to this whole plot and design thing. The signs were there from the beginning - even at primary school, I'd produce detailed maps and plans for the locations my stories were to be set in. "Mapping for a computer game can be considered another form of writing a story - you have to pace things appropriately and provide clues regarding what will happen in the future in order to keep the player interested. To add mystery to a story, you don't hide everything away - you show just enough to get the imagination of the reader (or player) going. If you give them direction, they'll fight for it. "As for actually writing the story, it's more a case of sitting at my computer and typing stuff in. Sheer excitement.
What are your influences for the mod? What other mods have inspired you?
A giant influence remarkably few people have noticed are the Marathon games from Bungie, now more famous for the Halo series. The first Minerva map was very heavily inspired by a certain Silent Cartographer chapter from Halo - so much so that its original nickname was 'Flatulent Geographer'. Yes, really. When later looking at overhead screenshots of the two, I was appalled as to how similar they looked - unintentional, as I'd deliberately avoided playing Halo for some time, trying not to be too closely inspired. But still, very few people have noticed, so I think I got away with it.
How much input have you taken from the community in shaping new episodes?
Too much, and not enough. Some of the major complaints about the first episode were that the messages were too cryptic and that there weren't enough puzzles. So, some of the major complaints about the second episode were: messages not cryptic enough and too many puzzles. You can't win...
What about professionals? Have the guys at Valve given you any feedback?
Feedback from Valve? Kind of, if you count being invited over to Seattle for a week and being given the chance to playtest the work-in-progress Episode One - along with some great conversations with some of the geniuses behind the Half-Life games. Does that count?